Do’s and don’ts of wine tasting

I know what you’re thinking. You don’t need a guide to wine tasting. Raise glass to mouth, sniff, sip, repeat, right? Wrong. There are so, so many ways to embarrass yourself at a tasting, many of which I have done. Herewith some lessons learned the hard way:

Start fresh: Don’t taste just after a spicy meal _ or after gargling mouthwash for that matter. And this isn’t the time to load up on cologne; it can interfere with aromas.

Watch those hands: It adds a bit of dash if you can make the wine swirl around in your glass a bit. (This actually has a purpose, getting air into the wine which can wake up some wines, especially young ones.)  I find keeping the base on the table and trying a gentle counter-clockwise motion does the trick. But beware. Perched on their spindly little stems, wine glasses will keel over at the slightest provocation and make you look like an idiot. An idiot with a big purple stain all over your pants.

Spit with style: Yeah, it’s a little bit gross. But if you don’t spit you’re going to get tipsy and not even enjoy it.  Tasting is all about getting through a lot of different wines in a relatively short time; it’s not the same as relaxing and enjoying a glass with lunch.  So, after you’ve sniffed, sipped and chewed on the wine for a bit you gotta spit and you gotta spit with enthusiasm. Lose your nerve and you’re going to end up with an impotent little dribble that is likely to leave your shirt matching your pants, pls. see above.  Ladylike types should heed Lauren Bacall’s advice to Humphrey Bogart in “To Have and Have Not”:  You just  put your lips together and blow.

Be prepared to say something: If you like it, great. You say, “I like it.” Everyone goes home happy.  But you won’t always like it and when you’re looking some sweet young tasting room employee _  or worse, the winemaker _ right in the eye, you really don’t want to blurt out something like, “Oh, man, that’s awful. I think my palate’s about to sue me for assault.”   So, you might go with, “Mmm. Interesting. “ Or, “This is something new for me. Where did the grapes in this wine come from?”

But know when to shut up: Even a fool when he holdeth his peace, says the Good Book, is counted wise, and, oh boy, is that true at wine tastings. I have dropped some clangers myself, like the time I waffled on about a wine being “oaky” … and discovered it had been made in stainless steel tanks. And don’t get me started about the time I heard a winemaker talking about his “premium crew.” (Premier cru, French term for high-quality wine estates.) Pros can do this, too. I was once at a blind tasting where experts were striking out wine after wine, but still gamely coming back for more, waxing eloquent about “deep cherry notes” etc. that “clearly indicated” this or that (wrong) varietal. Me, I was following the biblical advice quoted above. It was either that or smile brightly and say, “Well, I’m pretty sure it’s a red.”

The biggest faux pas, of course,  would be not trying new wines _ you never know when you’re going to hit on your new favorite. Wine tastings are all around, from the fabulously romantic cellars of wine country to the counter at your local wine shop. Just act natural and don’t be shy about asking questions.And never let the spit bucket see your fear.